Elizabeth Olsen

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness


Cineworld, Edinburgh

Another Marvel, another Multiverse – and am I the only one who’s growing a little weary of this device? It worked wonders in the Spider-Man franchise, but can it do the same for my other old go-to comic favourite, Doctor Strange? Well possibly, but I have to admit the main thing that draws me to this is the presence of Sam Raimi in the director’s chair.

Raimi has released some great movies over the years: The Evil Dead and its super-charged sequels, as well as A Simple Plan and Drag Me to Hell – but it’s a while since he’s had a chance to strut his cinematic stuff. While he’s always been a director who dances to his own tune, can he successfully apply those considerable talents to Marvel’s famously constricting template?

The answer is, ‘sort of.’

DSITMOM starts, appropriately enough with a dream sequence, where Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) witnesses a twisted, evil version of himself attacking a teenage girl. But is it a dream? When, shortly afterwards, Strange encounters the girl in real life, she turns out to be America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), who has the ability to travel across the multiverse with ease, though (rather conveniently) she doesn’t know how she does it. Or, for that matter, why. Nor can she explain why she’s being pursued by a giant one-eyed octopus. But hey, these things can happen, right?

Sensing that she’s in danger (no shit, Sherlock), Strange seeks help from Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), only to discover that she’s not going to be any help at all. Demented by the recent death of her partner and terrified she might lose the two children she loves so much (the ones who don’t actually exist), Wanda decides to steal America’s power for her own wicked ends, an action that will cause the girl’s death. (Incidentally, for someone who’s supposed to be a genius, Strange seems to be very adept at putting his foot in things. He’s the one who messed everything up in No Way Home – and now this.)

I’m not going to relate any more of the plot because, frankly, it’s as mad as a box of frogs (I suppose the title should have warned me), but the more important question is, can this nonsense hold together as a movie, and the answer is ‘just about.’ DSITMOM is essentially a series of frantic action set-pieces, loosely strung together. Though they are occasionally eye-popping and sometimes make me feel that I’ve inadvertently dropped a tab of acid, they never really gel into a convincing story arc.

Different versions of popular Marvel characters keep popping out of the woodwork and in many cases are actually killed, but because we know they’re not the real McCoy, there’s no real sense of threat here. Cumberbatch gets to portray several different Stephens, which was probably more fun for him than it proves to be for an audience. The parts that work best for me are the Sam Raimi moments, the few scenes where he’s allowed to employ the tropes of low budget horror – and of course there’s the inevitable cameo from Bruce Campbell, which is always welcome. But too often Raimi’s singular vision is swamped in the sturm und drang of state-of-the-art special effects.

Elsewhere, actors of the the calibre of Benedict Wong, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Patrick Stewart are called upon to utter some truly naff dialogue, courtesy of screenwriter Michael Waldron.

The usual post-credits sequence suggests that Strange will be even stranger in the next instalment, if and when it happens. The enthusiastic applause from the mainly teenage audience at the end of this screening suggests that I may well be in the minority here.

Doctor Strange (and possibly Mr Raimi) will be back. Watch this space.

3.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Ingrid Goes West


Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) is a young woman with serious issues. Desperately lonely and hopelessly addicted to social media, she feels decidedly miffed when one of her ‘online friends’ has the temerity to get married without bothering to invite her. Most of us would shrug this off, but not Ingrid – she turns up at the wedding reception and treats the bride to a faceful of Mace. Needless to say, it doesn’t go down at all well.

After paying the price for her transgressions, Ingrid heads home to an empty house. We learn that her sick mother has recently passed away after a long illness, that Ingrid has spent the last few years caring for her, and that Mom has left her only daughter a considerable sum of money in her will. Leafing through a magazine one day, Ingrid chances upon an article about  the woman who will become her latest obsession. Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) is an Instagram ‘influencer’ who appears to be living the perfect boho lifestyle in sunny Los Angeles, with her artist boyfriend, Ezra (Wyatt Russell), and who can’t seem to smash an avocado without photographing it and adding a hashtag. For Ingrid, it’s love at first click – so she makes a cash withdrawal from the bank, buys a plane ticket and heads out to LA, where she rents an apartment from Batman-obsessed wannabe screenwriter, Dan (O’Shea Jackson Jnr). Once settled in she sets about inveigling her way into Taylor’s world, frequenting all the places that feature in her online posts. Pretty soon, she is moving in Taylor’s exalted circles and ingratiating herself with her new ‘friends’ at every opportunity… but will this be enough to satisfy her longing for acceptance?

Ingrid Goes West is a prescient tale, skillfully told, and Plaza offers a powerful performance in the lead role, making us care about Ingrid at every step, no matter how heinous her actions. Olsen is good too, as the vain and exceedingly shallow Taylor – but then, nearly everyone here (apart from the exceedingly sweet-natured Dan) is as shallow as a kiddies’ paddling pool. I particularly like the examples we are shown of Ezra’s ‘art’, which consists of a single word printed onto a ‘found’ image (i.e. nicked from other photographers). Everything in this world, it transpires, is fake.

The script, co-written by director Matt Spicer, gleefully eviscerates the world of the online glitterati, people so obsessed with their own style that they seem to have lost their humanity. In less assured hands, this could so easily have been a dark and miserable descent into despair, but that sparkling script – and an unexpectedly upbeat conclusion – actually makes this a must-watch.


4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Wind River


In a moonlit pre-credit sequence, a young native American woman flees across a snowbound landscape, barefoot and gasping for breath. It’s an arresting introduction, one which certainly grabs the viewer’s attention. This bleak and rather melancholic slowburner is based around the resulting investigation into the woman’s death, carried out on the remote Wind River reservation in Wyoming. Inspired by true events, it’s written and directed by Taylor Sheridan (author of Sicario and Hell and High Water). The events unfold in inhospitable mountainous landscapes, which are beautifully captured by Ben Richardson’s sweeping cinematography.

The woman’s body is found by veteran tracker, Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), out hunting wolves. He instantly recognises the dead woman as Natalie, the former best friend of his late daughter who herself died in suspicious circumstances, something that Lambert has never fully come to terms with. FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is assigned to handle the investigation, arriving at the location dressed in high heels and severely ill-equipped to deal with the hostile weather conditions. She wisely enlists Lambert (and his snowmobile) to get her from place to place in order to talk to Natalie’s family and to help her interview the list of potential suspects.

Renner and Olsen submit moving performances and manage to generate some real chemistry between them, and there’s a heartfelt (and never patronising) view of the local Native American’s plight as they struggle to survive in a world that has robbed them of everything they ever valued. There are nice turns from Apesanahkwat as world-weary tribal police chief, Dan Crowheart, and from Graham Greene as the dead girl’s father, Ben, struggling to understand the iniquities of life on a reservation.

A pity, then, that the final third of the movie squanders all these good intentions by making an abrupt detour into much more cliched territory – there’s an extended gunfight, some harsh ‘eye-for-an-eye’ vengeance, a horribly graphic rape scene and men generally a-doin’ what men gotta do – at least in Sheridan’s macho world view. It’s almost as though two quite different movies have been clumsily stitched together. 

Wind River is worth seeing for that ravishing location photography and those appealing performances, but there’s the distinct conviction that it would have been a better film if it had stuck to its guns, rather than firing them off in all directions.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney